Wed, Aug 15, 2007 - Page 1 News List

Ma found not guilty in corruption trial

CAMPAIGN BOOST The court decided that special allowances do not constitute public funds, meaning that Ma Ying-jeou was not guilty of embezzling public funds

By Rich Chang, Shih Hsiu-chuan, Ko Shu-ling and Flora Wang  /  STAFF REPORTERS

Former Taipei mayor Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) was yesterday found not guilty of corruption by the Taipei District Court.

Ma was indicted on Feb. 13 for allegedly embezzling NT$11 million (US$333,000) from his special mayoral allowance during his eight years in office.

Prosecutors said that between December 1998 and July last year, Ma wired half of his monthly special allowance -- NT$170,000 -- directly into a personal account. In this way, they said Ma had accumulated NT$11,176,227 in accounts belonging to himself and his wife.

Taipei District Prosecutors' Office spokesman Lin Jinn-tsun (林錦村) said prosecutors would decide whether or not to appeal the case to the Taiwan High Court after receiving and studying the ruling.

During the trial Ma admitted he had taken half of his monthly special allowance for personal use, but said he believed that government officials' special allowances should be treated as income, not as public funds.

"The court decided government officials' special allowances should be treated as a substantial subsidy -- as income -- and so Ma did not embezzle any public funds," Taipei District Court spokesman Liu Shou-sung (劉壽嵩) told a press conference yesterday.

Liu said the court upheld the view that government officials have, since 1973, not been required to account for half of their special allowance.

The court accepted that it was a matter of convention that officials enjoyed considerable flexibility in dealing with their special allowance funds, Liu said.

"The court is of the opinion that Ma had no intention to embezzle any public funds, nor did he attempt to mislead his [Taipei City Government] accountants and auditing staff," Liu said.

Presiding Judge Tsai Shou-hsun (蔡守訓) announced the verdict at 10am: "Ma Ying-jeou is not guilty," leading to cheers from Ma's supporters waiting outside the courtroom.

Prosecutor Hou Kuan-jen (侯寬仁) had said in his indictment that the former mayor had admitted in his first interview that the special allowance fund should be used for public expenses. However, yesterday's ruling made no mention of such a confession.

Liu said the court believed Ma had answered a "leading" question from the prosecutor, and that Hou turned his answer into a confession.

The verdict stated that the transcript of Hou's questioning of Taipei City treasurer Wu Li-ju (吳麗洳) was "not credible." The court ruled there were serious discrepancies between an audio recording of the testimony and the transcript.

Furthermore, the court said Hou had asked hypothetical questions and the testimony did not have the authority of evidence. Although Hou recorded answers of "yes" and "uh" to his questions as affirmative responses, this was not necessarily the case, the court said.

The judges said Hou had taken statements out of context, and that they had never before seen such discrepancies in evidence.

Another defendant, Ma's former secretary Yu Wen (余文), was sentenced to 14 months in jail for using fraudulent receipts to claim reimbursements from Ma's special allowance fund.

Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) legislators Justin Chou (周守訓), Chen Chieh (陳杰) and dozens of Ma and KMT supporters gathered outside the courthouse cheered as the verdict was handed down.

Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平) sent his congratulations to Ma, saying that the court had vindicated him.

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